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Size: A plate
Thickness: This week's Pitch
Density: Airy, light
Color: Light brown
Syrup: Maple Ridge maple-flavored corn syrup
Price: $3.75 for a short stack
There's a good story behind the subtly sweet pancake recipe at the beloved Cascone's Grill. Nearly 40 years ago, back in its original Fifth Street location, founder Sam Cascone was mixing up some custard when he was called out of the kitchen to talk to a vendor. "When he got back, he forgot what he had been making," says his son Frank, who now runs the diner with his brother, George. "Someone said the kitchen needed pancake batter, so Dad made pancake batter out of the custard. And that's how we've made pancakes ever since."
The pancakes at Cascone's, delectably light and fluffy, were best eaten immediately — they seemed to get heavier and doughier as they cooled. Ask for butter to dodge the blob of shiny margarine that otherwise dressed each stack.
Size: 12-inch diameter
Thickness: Rolling Stone magazine
Color: Golden brown
Syrup: Maple-flavored corn syrup
The whitewashed brick walls in the front room of the City Diner are covered with signatures of the masters of the pancake universe: the men and women who have accomplished the feat of eating two of this restaurant's oversized pancakes. The honorees include Daniel "Chim Chim" Jewett, Andy "I'm Just Getting Started" Duckett and Coleman "The Iron Stomach" Reed.
The cakes here were beautiful-looking but a bit doughy. They tended to be pretty hefty, too. When I asked the waitress if they were always so thick, she answered, "Sometimes worse." Less adventurous diners can order a smaller version, which still drapes over the sides of a dinner plate. They come with Land O'Lakes margarine.
Mama's 39th Street Diner
Size: 10-inch diameter
Thickness: The Cat in the Hat, hardcover version
Color: Satiny light brown
Syrup: Thin, maple-flavored corn syrup
Price: $2.59 each
People seem to love or hate Mama's 39th Street Diner, and I'm still on the fence about the place. The dishes that the kitchen executes well — breakfasts in particular — are done very well. The blue-plate specials are another story. Still, Mama's has the most congenial vibe among midtown diners.
If you don't mind a malty, vanilla-intense griddle cake, the pretty golden pancakes at this recently reopened diner were exceptionally good. I liked that Mama's still served its maple-flavored syrup (it tasted like Log Cabin) in miniature clear-plastic pitchers. The cakes were served piping hot, allowing the butter — the real thing — to melt evenly.
Size: CD-sized Swedish style or plate-sized
Thickness: New York magazine
Density: Airy and light
Color: Yellow and brown marbling
Syrup: Mrs. Butterworth's
Price: $7 for a short stack
Beth Barden, chef-owner of the Dutch Hill bruncheonette Succotash, is proud of her two newest pancakes: a deliciously light gluten-free version (made with xanthan gum and sorghum paste) and a vegan version (made with soy milk and seasoned with a touch of fennel and cinnamon). She sells more of the traditional buttermilk pancakes, but my favorite here are the buttery, crepelike Swedish-style cakes, which are folded around a filling of red lingonberries. If size matters to you, Barden makes 'em big, too. There's a platter-sized number that requires a cookie sheet to flip. She's a taskmaster when it comes to her hotcakes, instructing the nearest server to deliver them as soon as they come off the grill. Even the restaurant's new host — a dead ringer for Peter Tork of the Monkees, that '60s band that gave us "Tapioca Tundra" and "Apples, Peaches, Bananas and Pears" — has been known to pinch run a plate.